Covers Expert Al McCordie takes a look at the upcoming week of NBA action and breaks down the betting angles of all the moving pieces.
The Los Angeles Lakers are on a five-game ATS win streak (and have won their last four games straight-up). Their competition has included some very good teams, as the first three ATS victories were against the Clippers, Grizzlies and Spurs. Clearly, the Lakers were not concerned about maximizing their chances to retain their 1st Round Draft Pick (which will be shipped to the Philadelphia 76ers, should it land outside the top 3). Los Angeles is now likely to finish 28th in the NBA standings, which would mean (roughly) a 47% chance to retain its Draft Pick.
This week, the Lakers will close out their schedule with a home game vs. New Orleans and a road game at Golden State. It's quite possible that both the Pelicans and Warriors will rest their stars in those games, and that Los Angeles will end its season on a seven-game ATS win streak.
The Charlotte Hornets have completely packed it in on defense. They've allowed more than 100 points in each of their last 10 games, and have gone Over the total in each of those 10 games. They gave up 121 points on Saturday to Boston and that defeat officially eliminated the Hornets from playoff contention.
This week, Charlotte will close out its schedule with road games vs. Milwaukee and Atlanta, both of whom are still jockeying for playoff positions. Monday's game vs. the Bucks has all the earmarks of another high-scoring game, as the last three meetings between these teams have sailed Over the total (by an average of 13.3 ppg).
The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to have wrapped up the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed last Wednesday when they upset the Celtics, 114-91, as a 4-point underdog. But Cleveland decided to inject some drama into the NBA's final week, and immediately lost back-to-back games to the Atlanta Hawks (as 15.5 and 5-point favorites).
The Cavaliers and Celtics are now back to square one, as each has a 51-29 record with two games left to play.
Boston's schedule is decidedly easier, as it has home dates with Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Cleveland, meanwhile, has a road game on Monday in Miami, and then finishes with a home tilt vs. Toronto. The game on Monday vs. the Heat is especially problematic, as Cleveland is a horrid 8-20 SU and 7-20-1 ATS on the road when playing without rest. Moreover, Miami needs to win to remain alive for a playoff berth, and has won 12 straight home games vs. Cleveland - including a perfect 5-0 SU/ATS since LeBron James returned to the Cavs.
The Houston Rockets are on a seven-game ATS losing streak and the reason is obvious: James Harden's left wrist isn't fully healed. He initially jammed it in Houston's March 18 victory vs. Denver, and then exacerbated the injury in Houston's 137-125 victory over Oklahoma City on March 26.
Since that game, the Rockets have gone 0-7 ATS. Harden played in six of those games (he missed the April 2 game with the flu), and has not shot .500 or better in any of those games (47-for-133 combined). Clearly, Harden should have been given some time off since Houston has been locked into the No. 3 seed, but the Rockets organization (Harden, included) desperately wants him to win the MVP award.
Both Daryl Morey, Houston's GM, and Harden lobbied for votes through various media this weekend. This is, from my perspective, a misplaced sense of priorities. Indeed, Houston may very well lose its playoff series to Oklahoma City if Harden is not completely healthy.
This week, Houston will play the Clippers in Los Angeles, and end its season with a home date vs. Minnesota. Notwithstanding the Rockets' long ATS losing streak, I would consider backing them on Wednesday. The Rockets are 9-3 ATS their last 12 home finales and they've also won 13 of the last 15 meetings vs. the T-Wolves (and the last eight in Houston).